Inmate prefers execution to years of appeals
Killer may have request granted by end of year

Published: Wednesday, July 7 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

Joseph Mitchell Parsons believes he doesn't deserve the death penalty for killing Richard L. Ernest 12 years ago, but he'd rather be executed than spend the next several years on Utah's death row awaiting his federal appeals.

"He views himself as having no future in the legal sense and in the personal sense," said Parsons' attorney, Gregory Sanders. "He believes he's facing an extended time on death row, and he doesn't want to live like that any more."Unless he changes his mind or an outside party is allowed to pursue his appeal process for him, Parsons likely will be executed by lethal injection before the end of the year -- possibly as early as October.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Magistrate Ronald Boyce granted Parsons' motion to withdraw the federal appeal of his death sentence and lifted a stay on his execution.

"I'm dropping the appeal," Parsons told Boyce.

"He understands his decision will lead to execution," Sanders told the magistrate.

Last week Boyce denied Parsons' writ for habeas corpus, but the recommendation still had to be approved by U.S. District Judge David Sam. Had Parsons desired he could have challenged his death sentence to Sam, then to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Utah Board of Pardons.

State prosecutors say they will file in 5th District Court in Cedar City within 30 days an application for a death warrant. An execution date will likely be set for 60 days later.

It would be the state's first execution in almost four years and the fifth since Gary Gilmore was executed in 1977. The last was John Albert Taylor, who was executed by firing squad in January 1996 for raping and killing an 11-year-old Washington Terrace girl.

Parsons, 34, pleaded guilty to stabbing Ernest more than 10 times in August 1987 at a rest stop off I-15 near Cedar City. Ernest was driving from California to Colorado when he picked up the hitchhiking Parsons near Barstow, Calif. Parsons had been recently paroled from a Nevada prison.

Parsons was arrested the day after authorities found Ernest's body dumped along I-15. He was sleeping in Ernest's car and had used Ernest's credit card to pay for a motel room in Beaver.

He says the killing was in self-defense as he tried to get away from Ernest's sexual advances. No evidence was presented in Parsons' trial supporting his claim that Ernest was homosexual.

Before granting Parsons' motion to drop the appeal, Boyce said he wanted to make sure Parsons is mentally competent, a standard the Supreme Court set in 1977 when Gillmore asked to be executed. Boyce said doctors who evaluated Parsons found him suffering from no psychosis, not suicidal and not depressed.

"He is certainly sane and competent," Boyce said.

Boyce also required Parsons to discuss with Sanders and his former attorney, Ron Yengich, his future legal options and the consequences of dropping the appeals.

Yengich said Parsons put a lot of thought into the decision and it was made over a long period of time. And even though the decision is contrary to Yengich's advice, the attorney said Parsons reminded him that "I'm not the one who has to sit on death row. I'm not the one who has to live there."

Yengich told Boyce that Parsons is unequivocal in his desire that no one challenge his death sentence or pursue his appeals for him.

Parsons is not the first Utah death row inmate to request that his execution go forward. Gilmore did it in 1977 and Ronnie Lee Gardner asked to drop his federal appeal last year. Gardner, however, later changed his mind and is continuing with his appeal.

Utah State Prison spokesman Jack Ford said Parsons told him that he doesn't feel he deserves to die but that he doesn't want to continue living under the restrictions of death row.

"He seemed pretty sincere that he wanted to go ahead with (the execution)," Ford said.

Twelve inmates live on Utah's death row. Parsons has been there for almost 11 years. The longest resident of death row is Elroy V. Tillman, who has been there since January 1983.

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